When: Noon Sunday, U.S. Bank Stadium
TV (radio): Ch. 9 (100.3-FM)
Line: Rams by 3½
Even though the Vikings are better rested than the Rams (who played Tuesday night), they will have their work cut out against a talented defense and explosive offense. Their job gets even tougher with Dalvin Cook on the COVID-19 list while Kirk Cousins and Adam Thielen try to play through injuries. It might be a little too much to ask for the Vikings to take this one.
THREE STORY LINES
Vikings return home in control of playoff destiny
Since the Eagles beat Washington on Tuesday night, the Vikings are still in the No. 7 spot in the NFC, thanks to their tiebreaker advantage with Philadelphia and New Orleans. It means they can claim a wild-card spot without any help from other teams, if they win their final three games. The Vikings, though, have a tougher schedule in those three games than do the Eagles or Saints, with games remaining against the 10-4 Rams and 11-3 Packers.
Offense tries to recover with Cook out
The Vikings managed only 193 yards against a depleted Bears defense on Monday; they'll likely need to be better against the Rams, but they'll have to play without Cook, who went on the COVID-19 reserve list just before practice Thursday morning. Cousins will play with a cracked rib while Thielen tries to return from a high ankle sprain; the Vikings will also have to find ways to get the ball to Justin Jefferson even with Jalen Ramsey likely shadowing him.
Stafford is familiar foe in new uniform
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford went 5-3 in his first eight starts against Mike Zimmer-coached Vikings teams, before the Lions hired Matt Patricia and the Vikings won their next six against Detroit. Now in Los Angeles, Stafford is throwing to Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham, who offer a stronger set of weapons than Stafford had after Calvin Johnson retired in Detroit. Stafford won't have his usual left tackle, as 40-year-old Andrew Whitworth was put on the COVID list Saturday. backup Joe Noteboom also was on the list, so the Rams might have to turn to Tremayne Anchrum Jr.
TWO KEY MATCHUPS
Vikings WR Justin Jefferson vs. Rams CB Jalen Ramsey
Ramsey seems likely to shadow Jefferson; the wide receiver said Thursday he's had the matchup circled on his calendar for quite a while. While Jefferson doesn't have to prepare for multiple cornerbacks, he said he will need a variety of releases to win four quarters' worth of plays against Ramsey, one of the best cover corners in the NFL. They have never met, Jefferson said; they will get a chance to battle for most of the day Sunday.
Vikings offensive line vs. Rams DT Aaron Donald
While the Vikings have to contend with Leonard Floyd and Von Miller among the Rams' front seven, their toughest work will be against Donald, the three-time NFL defensive player of the year who'll test the Vikings' interior line. His quickness off the line is unmatched among defensive tackles, and after a bit of a slow start (by his standards) he has posted five sacks in the Rams' past three games.
ONE STAT THAT MATTERS
47.7: Percentage of the Rams' drives that end in a score. That rate is the best in the NFL this season.
THE VIKINGS WILL WIN IF …
They can give Cousins time to work through his reads, Jefferson can win his share of matchups with Ramsey, Alexander Mattison fills in capably for Cook and the Vikings can find a way to slow the Rams' downfield passing attack, with Stafford using Cooper Kupp and Odell Beckham to test the Vikings secondary.
THE RAMS WILL WIN IF …
Donald, Floyd and Miller can overwhelm the Vikings offensive line on their way to Cousins, while keeping Minnesota's running game in check. They could also benefit from a takeaway or two against a Vikings team that has turned the ball over three times in its past six quarters, and they could have chances for production on the ground while facing a Minnesota front that has the league's lowest run stop rate.
Rams 28, Vikings 24